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Hi Cherry !

I have a 2 + year QH that I am having trouble getting him to use a bit.

As I try to put in his mouth he will back up and refuses for to put the bit in his mouth. What can I do to get him to let me put on a bit, or is it his age?

Ruben

Hi Ruben,

The best way to solve this problem is to forget about the bit and bridle for a few lessons.

First you need to teach your horse to allow you to handle his head, his ears, his lips, his mouth, examine his teeth and so on.

I use one of my old toothbrushes to get the horse used to having something in his mouth. This will also be safer for you than using your fingers if you aren’t really sure where the teeth are located (see drawing below). Hold the bristle end in your hand and rub the end of the smooth plastic handle along the horse’s lips. When your horse will allow you to do this without moving his head or backing away, then insert the smooth toothbrush handle into the interdental space – the area between the incisors and molars where the bit goes. If you don’t have a toothbrush handy, you can use an old, washed out dewormer tube for this lesson.

Next be sure your horse doesn’t have any fear of you opening his lips to look at his teeth. Your veterinarian needs to do this anyway, so take the time to make sure your horse is comfortable with you handling all parts of his mouth and head.

Then be sure you can handle and rub his ears and are able to bend his ears forward like you will need to do when you slip the crownpiece of the bridle over his ears.

When you feel your horse is comfortable with all of this, be sure you are bridling properly.

Horse Training - Proper Bridling Position

Horse Training - Proper Bridling Position

Refer to the photo above to show you how to put your right hand over your horse’s head and between his ears while you present the bit to the horse with your left hand. Be careful not to bump the horse’s front teeth with the bit. If he doesn’t readily open his mouth, you can insert the thumb of your left hand into the corner of his mouth – this usually gets the horse to open his mouth. See the illustration below to help you determine the safe zone for you to place your fingers – the interdental space which is the space where there are no teeth – between the canines and the wolf teeth.

Teeth of a Mature Horse Showing the Safe Finger Zone, the interdental space

Teeth of a Mature Horse Showing the Safe Finger Zone, the interdental space

After you have thoroughly prepared your horse for the sensations of bridling, he should accept the process willingly. Take your time because these habits last a lifetime, whether good or bad.

For more information, refer to

Making Not Breaking by Cherry HillHow to Think Like A Horse by Cherry HillMaking Not Breaking

How to Think Like a Horse

Best of luck, and let me know how you make out.

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I rescued a 7 year old gelding Tennessee Walker . He belonged (trained and
shown) to an 89 year old man that bought him when his wife passed then 6
years later he passed away. He was run through a livestock auction due to
estate after left in a field for 8 months, severely under weight, sickly,
etc. and  was afraid of everything.  In six months I have him eating out of
my hand, stands at liberty for grooming, but unable to touch his face &
forehead to get a halter on him.  He only responds to me and not my husband.
Any ideas how to get away from the resistance so he doesn’t pull away from
touch? I need to get a bit firmer with him now that he’s in excellent
health, noting he still needs emotional mending.  THANK YOU – I love your
articles!  Marty

Hello Marty,

Are you familiar with the principles of desensitization or sacking out?
You can click on those words and go to articles on my website that will help you with the concepts behind the procedures.

Based on what you told me, I’d tie an old sock or cloth on the end of a
medium length whip (approximately 4 feet long) so you have a somewhat puffy
dauber at the end of the whip. Then using the whip as an extension of your
arm, rub the sock all over the places on your horse’s body that you can now
groom him. You can do this with the horse loose, held by an assistant, tied,
or even held by you – that will depend on his level of handling and
training.

Once the horse is accustomed to the sock on a stick, gradually start moving
the sock up his neck. At the first sign of resistance (tensing, raising of
head, moving away etc.) keep the sock at that spot and rub and rub and
rub……..until you see a sign of relaxation (an exhale, a lowering of the
head, licking and chewing, or an overall calming). When the horse relaxes,
take the sock away and tell him “Good boy” and rub him somewhere he likes
rubbing such as on his withers or neck.

Then start again. Repeat the procedure, each time getting the horse used to
being touched in a new area of his “hot zone”. Eventually you will be able
to use the sock on his forehead, across his ears and so on.

But, it does take time, perseverance and patience.  Be sure you are very
consistent in your techniques.
Rub until you find a touchy spot, work there until there is relaxation,
remove the stimulus, reward. Repeat.

It could take days, weeks or even a month to over-ride the avoidance reflex.

Eventually you should tie a long sock or cloth on the whip so you can do
this with a floppy item, then a plastic grocery sack. Then your hands.

The reason it is easier to use a long stick (or whip) is that your arms
would get very tired reaching up to the horse’s head and ears and keeping
them there for the time it takes for the horse to learn that he is not going
to be harmed.

It is important you take the time for this very important lesson because
without it, you wont’ be able to handle, care for or bridle your horse.

Best of luck, have fun and let me know how your horse progresses.


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